This week in Washington, D.C., The Catholic Women’s Forum of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and The Catholic University of America co-hosted the release of an affirmation of Catholic Church teaching on human sexuality, including marriage and contraception.
The timing coincided with publication of a document titled “On the Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, urging the Church to accept that “the use of non-abortifacient modern contraceptives for prophylactic purposes can be morally legitimate and even morally obligatory.”
The statement released at Catholic University, signed by its president, John Garvey, suggested that the Wijngaards push might be stuck in the seventies and early eighties. He should know, as Catholic University itself was once home to controversy and dissent over Humanae Vitae.
The Catholic Women’s Forum/Catholic University statement emphasizes: “[S]cholarly support for the Church’s teachings on the gift of sexuality, on marriage, and on contraception has burgeoned in recent decades. Moreover, institutes and programs supporting that teaching have been established all over the world. Even some secular feminists and secular programs have begun to acknowledge the harms of contraception.”
A press release from Catholic University asserts that the controversial Amoris Laetitia from Pope Francis is consistent with previous papal affirmations of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae.
For many, this may seem a historic statement from Catholics in support of Church teaching, at a time when the Church and its teaching would seem to be on the losing side of all so-called “culture war” controversies in law and culture.
From the perspective of the president of Catholic University’s president and the more than 500 academics, many of them women, who joined him in signing the statement, it’s the necessary thing to do – to reassert and re-embrace the offers and promise of Catholic Church teaching in its fullness.
Mary Rice Hasson, who helped organize the effort, and who heads the Catholic Women’s Forum, talks a bit about the effort.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why on earth would you gather to affirm Catholic teaching on sexuality in 2016? Won’t that seem quite the backward step to many?
Hasson: Actually, the time is right for such an affirmation. The theology hasn’t changed, and it’s as true now as it was in 1968 when Humanae Vitae was issued.
But 50 years of lived experience has taught us that the turn to contraception, as a means to free women and give us more opportunities, has brought great harm to women, families, and the culture. Instead of affirming our womanhood, uncommitted sex and the use of contraception has told women that our fertility is a “design flaw” that must be dealt with by medication, surgery, barriers, or by implanting pieces of plastic or copper in our bodies.
Instead of affirming our deepest desires, the culture of uncommitted sex has alienated us from our longings for love, meaning, commitment, marriage and children. Women have had nearly fifty years of the culture telling us that it’s somehow better to subject our bodies to a litany of side effects and to pretend we’re okay with being objectified, used sexually and cast aside. Women are rejecting that, especially younger women.
It’s time to step forward as women and insist that we deserve to be treated with love, respect, and equal dignity. That means to stop pathologizing our nature, and stop telling us it’s “better” to be used than to be loved.
Why is it significant that this is being launched at the Catholic University of America? Might it look like you’re hiding behind the bishops who chartered it? Or the pope?
Not at all. Catholic University has been tremendously supportive, but this is an effort that was launched by lay people, mostly theologians, and many of them women, principally Janet Smith, who has been a fearless and faithful witness to the truth of the Church’s teaching for years.
The response I’m hearing from people signing the Affirmation of Church teaching is that “it’s about time.” Laypeople as well as clergy want to stand up and say the teaching is true, good, and needs to be shared.
The way out of our cultural problems is by walking the path of truth — and laypeople, especially women, are saying, “Let’s go!”
Why is Catholic teaching on sexuality good or even healthy for women?
Women have borne the brunt of the sexual revolution. The physical harms wreaked on our bodies from casual sex and contraception is greater than what men experience. While many women have used contraception, increasingly women are saying, enough — for physical and health reasons, if not for moral reasons.
The contraception industry is busy promoting contraception, but they like to hide the fact that women discontinue contraceptive use at high rates, typically because of side effects. And that’s why the industry–and the government ideologues who favor population control — are pushing LARC (long-acting methods, such as IUDs or implants), so women can’t discontinue them without a health care provider’s help.
In effect, women are being held hostage to the medical community, and that doesn’t sound like empowerment.
Women in developing countries are particularly at risk of exploitation, because mobile contraceptive teams will travel the countryside to give women contraceptive shots — which are terrible for our bodies –or implants or IUDs, and then leave, not to be seen again for weeks or months. Women who might not be aware of the side effects, or who otherwise would want to think things over before sterilizing themselves (effectively) for three, five, even twelve years at a time through these long-acting methods, are pushed into decisions with negative consequences.
The family-planning industry is about pushing their products and ensuring fewer babies are born, especially to poor women and women of color. It’s a myth that the global push for contraception and abortion is somehow necessary for women’s equality and opportunity. In contrast, these methods support a culture that encourages men to use women sexually and then to evade responsibility for children that might be born.
Most women still want to be married and have a family, but the culture is making that increasingly less likely.
What does Catholic teaching have to say about sex other than don’t do it unless you’re married and want to have children each time?
I hope people will read the statement at CatholicContraceptionStatement.com, and read the longer document prepared by Janet Smith and other theologians. It’s a beautiful expression of the Church’s vision for love and sexuality.
And yes, those are meant to go together. Love is a multiplier, because true love expands our hearts to love others more and better, and sexual love is meant to do the same thing. It can bring about a child as the expression of that love — an immortal, unique person created out of God’s love and the love of parents. That’s an amazing, powerful idea to think about, and even more, to be a part of.
So, no, the Church is not the Church of “No” but rather the Church of “Yes!” Yes to love, deep, enduring, fruitful love.
What motivates you to do things like this?
This initiative was really the inspiration of Janet Smith, and the rest of us said, “We’re in! How can we help?”
I’m motivated personally by love for the Church, a desire to share the Church’s clear vision of human dignity (that it rests on God’s love for us and it cannot be lost, unlike the “security” of money, human respect, status, etc.) and a deep gratitude for the mercy, grace, and teaching that have shaped my life in the Church. My encounters with the Sacraments and with the wonderful people who formed me in that faith have made me realize that when you receive a treasure, it’s meant to be shared.
I’m also motivated by a realization that so many women, Catholic women, have suffered greatly from the lies peddled by the sex and contraception industry. People need, and want, the truth.